Cal Performances’ new program aims to delve deep into artistic inspiration

What inspires a work of art? Is it something to which anyone can relate? A new program offered by Cal Performances, “Page and Stage,” will explore these questions by examining four performances that were inspired by literary works.

Envisioned as a unique spin on a book club, the program will bring artists together with scholars to discuss their work and the journey from inspiration to its expression on the stage. Members of the community are invited to read the source materials and join the conversations, which will be moderated by Cal Performances associate director Rob Bailis.

“We’re asking what inspired an artist, what was the artist’s way in? How can we build pathways into what may be an obscure work of art or a more ambiguous work of art?” says Bailis, who worked with Sabrina Klein and Laura Abrams on the design of the program. Over the last several years the three have been creating new programming and coursework as part of Cal Performances’ Berkeley RADICAL initiative to boost their audiences’ “artistic literacy,” which they define as the ability to meaningfully engage with a work of art. In their work with students they have hit on a winning formula: help young people find and make a personal connection with art. The “Page and Stage” programs aim to make this same opportunity available to the wider community.

Scottish Ballet dancers on the stage

A Streetcar Named Desire (Image courtesy of the Scottish Ballet)

Four performances in the 2016/2017 season have been chosen for inclusion, each one meant to highlight a different aspect or interpretation of a text to live performance. The program launches Nov. 16 with UC Berkeley professor of music, composer and Guggenheim fellow Myra Melford discussing her immersive musical composition Language of Dreams, which was inspired by Eduardo Galeano’s literary trilogy Memory of Fire. Melford will be joined by Ivonne del Valle, a Berkeley professor of comparative literature, in the discussion.

On March 20, 2017, Philippa Kelly, of Berkeley’s Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, will explore the process of creation behind a 90-minute reimagining of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Takács Quartet violinist Edward Dusinberre and Berkeley professor of music history Nicholas Matthew will lead a discussion about the daily life of performing in a string quartet, as well as Dusinberre’s book Beethoven for a Later Age.

Musicians of the Takács Quartet

Edward Dusinberre’s Beethoven for a Later Age (Image courtesy of the Takács Quartet)

The final “Page and Stage” discussion this season will examine the translation of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire into a performance by the Scottish Ballet. San Francisco Ballet dance dramaturg and Berkeley alumna Carrie Gaiser Casey will join the panel.

The program is unique among the UC campuses, and there are plans to extend the program into Cal Performances’ next season. The goal, says Ballis, is to maintain an intimate, but not exclusive, experience that enriches the artists, scholars and audience participants. “This is for an audience that wants to engage,” he says. “As a university presenter we are situated at this incredible intersection of the world’s greatest intellectual capital, the world’s most powerful artistic presence and community that is young people, educators, people who have been lifelong learners all together in one conversation.

“‘Page and Stage,'” he adds, “is at that nexus.”